Obama's Speech: A Persuasive Argument For His Af/Pak Strategy
I did not see it and I have seen no reaction to it. Here is the speech. Here are my reactions:
The President said "I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan -- the nature of our commitment there, the scope of our interests, and the strategy that my administration will pursue to bring this war to a successful conclusion." I think the speech should be judged on how well it fulfilled those three stated objectives. More . .
The Nature of the Commitment. The President said:
[I]t's important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of passengers onboard one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.
As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda -- a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world's great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents. Al Qaeda's base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban -- a ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.
Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and those who harbored them -- an authorization that continues to this day. The vote in the Senate was 98 to nothing. The vote in the House was 420 to 1. For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 -- the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks. America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda's terrorist network and to protect our common security.
Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy -- and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden -- we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope. At a conference convened by the U.N., a provisional government was established under President Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Force was established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.
I find this to be an important reminder for so many have chosen to couch the Afghanistan question as one of American imperialism and overreach. Whatever happens going forward, I think it is irresponsible and wrong to argue the United States is there because it has imperial designs on Afghanistan. The Taliban housed and aided Al Qaida. That is why the US went there. Whether we should stay is a larger question, but it is irresponsible and wrong to argue that the US is morally wrong to have engaged in a military conflict in Afghanistan. I would hope we can all agree on that. The President continued:
[I]n early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war, in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq war is well-known and need not be repeated here. It's enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq war drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention -- and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world.
This is a political statement, but a necessary one - the state of the Afghanistan was critically and harmfully impacted because of the Bush Administrations obsession with starting an unnecessary and catastrophic war in Iraq. Again, this is not to the point of what we must do in Afghanistan now, but it is critical context, especially with regards to the politics of this situation. The President continued:
[W]hile we've achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda's leadership established a safe haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it's been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient security forces.
(Emphasis supplied.) Safe haven in PAKISTAN. Now to see how the President ties his Afghanistan policy to the Pakistan issue:
Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to control additional swaths of territory in Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating attacks of terrorism against the Pakistani people.
The Pakistani connection is glossed over a bit but the threat of the re-establishment of an Al Qaida stronghold in Afghanistan is explained well. This certainly supplies, in my view, strong justification for a vigorous military commitment in Afghanistan. The President continued:
I [. . .] announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan and the extremist safe havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian efforts.
Does anyone quarrel with these goals? I do not. Indeed, I think this is at the heart of our reasons for being in Afghanistan. But something is missing - the explanation of the Pakistan problem. It comes only in drips and drabs - "Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border."(Emphasis supplied.) Why dance around the word PAKISTAN? Indeed there is an abrupt transition in the speech at this time - a switch to -- The TACTICS (NOT the STRATEGY)The Obama Administration Will Pursue. The President said:
As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service. And that's why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy. Now, let me be clear: There has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war during this review period. Instead, the review has allowed me to ask the hard questions, and to explore all the different options, along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and our key partners. And given the stakes involved, I owed the American people -- and our troops -- no less.
This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.
This is not strategy. This is tactics. Moreover, the President NEVER explains the "scope of our interests." This is a rhetorical failure imo. Perhaps later in the speech will rectify this shortcomings:
If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow. So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity.
(Emphasis supplied.) The President there supplies a description of the "scope of our interests." Still missing is the strategy the US will pursue (tactics have been announced - strategy has not been announced. Let's see if the President supplies it in the speech:
We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.
Is that the strategy? No, that is the objective and a rather amporphous one at that. What is the strategy then for "keep[ing] the prsssure on Al Qaeda[?]" ESPECIALLY in Afghanistan. The President puts more meat on the bones here-- The Strategy:
Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.
Now, how to to do that? The President said:
To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.
We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months. [the troop increase is the tactic] [. . .] Second, we will work with our partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security. [. . .] Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.
(Emphasis supplied.) NOW we get to the rub - PAKISTAN. The President said:
We're in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That's why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.
In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who've argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.
In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistan people must know America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.
This is the highlight of the speech. And it clinches my support for the President's policy. Some believe that an effective strategy can be carried out without the military commitment. I do not share that view. Like the President, I belive the military component is critical. But it is important that the Obama Administration understand that it is not enough. And it is imperative that the PAKISTAN situation be addressed adequately. Indeed, the Afghanistan situation can never be successfully addressed without the adequate implementation of a Pakistan strategy that can work.
The end of the President's speech struck me as much political blather but not important for consideration OTHER THAN his foolish decision to set an exit date that he can not possibly comply with. That is a political mistake. I trust it will not effect policy.
Speaking for me only
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